“True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.
We see that the Apostle, in observing and remarking the operations and exercises of religion, in the Christians he wrote to, wherein their religion appeared to be true and of the right kind, when it had its greatest trial of what sort it was, being tried by persecution as gold is tried in the fire, and when their religion not only proved true, but was most pure, and cleansed from its dross and mixtures of that which was not true, and when religion appeared in them most in its genuine excellency and native beauty, and was found to praise, and honor, and glory; he singles out the religious affections of love and joy, that were then in exercise in them: these are the exercises of religion he takes notice of, wherein their religion did thus appear true and pure, and in its proper glory.”
-Jonathan Edwards, Treatise on Religious Affections.
I’m arguably addicted to reading analogue books and listening to audiobooks. I’ve never been one to enjoy e-books. This year I’ve read more titles than any previous year, the resources of the Grand Rapids Public Library have been such a blessing. Here are recommendations and highlights from my 2020 reading list. These titles fed my soul, challenged my thinking, were educational, and/or were just fun to read.
I’ve sorted them by category for your convenience. Feel free to comment with your favorite reads or with suggestions for 2021.
Theology: The Major Works -Anselm The Pleasures of God -John Piper The Holiness of God -R.C. Sproul Fight -Preston Sprinkle Reenchanting Humanity -Owen Strachan
Eschatology: Kingdom Through Covenants -Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum Regnum Caelorum -Charles Hill The Temple and the Church’s Mission -G.K. Beale The Bible and Future Events -Anthony Hoekema Revelation -G.K. Beale
Christian History and Biography: The Korean Pentecost -Bruce Hunt Gay Girl, Good God -Jackie Hill Perry Confessions -Augustine
Racial Issues: Free At Last? -Carl F. Ellis The Color of Law -Richard Rothstein Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl -Harriet Ann Jacobs
History and Biography: Alexander Hamilton -Ron Chernow Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee -Dee Brown A Promised Land -Barack Obama No Higher Honor -Condoleezza Rice The Room Where It Happened -John Bolton
Non-Fiction: On Reading Well -Karen Swallow Prior Daring Greatly -Brené Brown Personality Isn’t Permanent -Benjamin Hardy. The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up -Marie Kondo Digital Minimalism -Cal Newport
Classic Fiction: The Deerslayer -James Fenimore Cooper Dawn -Elie Wiesel East of Eden -John Steinbeck
Newly-written Fiction: All the Light We Cannot See -Anthony Doer The Girl in Cabin 10 -Ruth Ware Thrawn – Timothy Zahn Deep Storm -Lincoln Child
“Our culture tells women and girls, from a very young age, that patriarchal religion and fertility will only hold them back in life.”
Swirling around and within Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings this week, was discussion and criticism of her Catholic faith. But this isn’t the first time her faith was placed front and center during a confirmation process.null
In 2017, when the Notre Dame Law professor was nominated to her current position as judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein notoriously attempted to undermine Barrett’s legitimacy to serve precisely because she was Roman Catholic. Or, as Feinstein memorably put her objection, “The dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”
When it was later suggested to Feinstein that her remarks were anti-Catholic and unconstitutional (i.e., that she was imposing a religious test for fitness to serve and declaring faithful Catholics especially unfit) she balked and pointed to the fact that she went to Catholic schools and has Catholic friends. That this sort of hackneyed defense is common to many forms of bigotry did not dissuade her — she unapologetically insisted that Barrett’s writings informed by her faith were an obstacle to her service to her country, and that it was her duty to ask tough questions about it.
I, like so many Catholics, was dismayed and appalled by Feinstein’s remarks, in large part because they were all too familiar from my own experience.
Attacking faith and fertility
Of course, we Catholics have long been seen as harboring some hidden, nefarious agenda, which calls into question our fitness to hold positions of power or authority. But for faithful Catholic women in particular, especially those of us who cannot hide the fact that we strive to adhere to the Church’s unpopular teachings about sex and contraception — i.e., Catholic mothers of large families — this anti-Catholic bias takes an especially ugly, sexist form. Unfortunately, I know this all too well.
Like Barrett, I’m a successful professor and a Roman Catholic mother of many (I have six living children). Like Barrett, I see no deep or unresolvable conflict between my professional ambitions and my personal faith and family life. Like Barrett, I do not try to “do it all,” but rely on my supportive husband to do more than his fair share of domestic work and child-rearing. Finally, like Barrett, my faith and my fertility have unfortunately been placed front and center in discussions of whether I am the right person for the job.
For example, when I was first on the notoriously brutal academic job market in philosophy as a PhD student, visibly pregnant with my fourth child in my interviews, I was subjected to questions and comments such as, whether my work was really all about my religion, in the final analysis; and whether I think Catholic women can call themselves feminists. My personal favorite was when someone compared me (unfavorably) to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who was widely known for, among other things, opposing contraception mandates, even as I was in the midst of explicating and defending the views of an atheist philosopher.
All of this was in addition to the questions about how I would finish with all these kids; how I managed to get any work done at all; whether I planned to have more children once hired; and whether I had hired help at home.
None of this was appropriate for a job interview in philosophy, especially since my dissertation work did not address any questions about sex, God, religion, Catholicism, or feminist theory. The fact that I was a Catholic should not have been a factor in determining the quality or character of my research or my fitness to teach. And yet it came up, again and again.
Threatened by Catholic mothers
Anti-Catholicism, like many prejudices, is gendered in very specific ways.
My husband is also Catholic and a philosopher, yet his faith never once come up in any of his job interviews, and his fatherhood was never perceived as a professional strike against him. He was never asked pointed questions about his faith and feminism; his views on abortion were of no interest to anyone. When I look at how Amy Coney Barrett is treated, both in the Senate and in the press, I see that exact same dynamic from my own life in play. Politics aside, I feel a strong solidarity with her.
Barrett’s nomination raises a question: Why is a highly educated, professionally successful, Catholic mother of a large family so threatening? I think part of the reason is that, according to the prevailing cultural narrative, we are not supposed to exist. Our culture tells women and girls, from a very young age, that patriarchal religion and fertility will only hold them back in life — that the only viable path to happiness is through an embrace of personal autonomy, which the demands of family life threaten. Women who complicate this narrative — not by “having it all” or being perfect, but by embracing their roles as mothers while still having demanding careers — are typically not celebrated, but placed under suspicion.
Women who find meaning and fulfillment in family life and their church communities are also often condescended to, as if they are too stupid or victimized to know how to make better choices for themselves. One thinks of Emmanuel Macron’s flippant remarks about women with large families in Africa, which inspired the #postcardsformacron hashtag on Twitter. “Present me the woman,” he said, “who decided, being perfectly educated, to have seven, eight or nine children.” Barrett problematizes this narrative we are so invested in, and this at least partly explains the visceral nature of some of the negative reaction to her rise to power.
Of course, it is only a partial explanation, but still an important one. Amy Coney Barrett is a conservative justice and more than competent and strong enough to defend her own judicial and academic record; I expect her to sail through her confirmation. But she should not have to defend herself as a mother of seven or as a Roman Catholic to serve on our highest court. If Amy Coney Barrett is unqualified to serve on the Supreme Court this will have nothing to do with her Catholicism or large family.
That much of the press has busied itself writing fear mongering pieces about her personal faith is disgusting and blatantly anti-Catholic, but also a touch absurd. After all, if a faithful Catholic woman, who was educated in Catholic schools and has spent most of her life in Catholic institutions, can be this accomplished and successful, maybe — just maybe — the Catholic Church is not as oppressive to women as so many seem to assume. null
-Jennifer A. Frey is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, and the host of thevirtueblog.com and the philosophy and literature podcast, Sacred and Profane Love. Follow her on Twitter: @jennfrey
“It is therefore apparent that there are three ranks of events: the miraculous, the natural, and the voluntary. And the miraculous is not at all governed by the others or their laws, but freely governs; nor does it harm them, when it seems to come up against them, because they have nothing but what they have received from it, nor has it given to them anything except what is under it.
Thus if the propagation of a man from a virgin is not voluntary or natural but miraculous, like that which brought forth a woman from a man alone, and like the creation of man from clay, it is clear that it cannot submit to the laws and merits of that propagation which nature and the will although separately—work. For here the will does one thing and nature another. But equally Adam is a man taken from a non-human, and Jesus from a woman alone and Eve from a man alone, as much as any man or woman from a man and a woman.
But every man is either Adam or born of Adam; but Eve is from Adam alone, and all others from Adam and Eve. Mary, from whom alone Jesus comes, is of Adam and Eve; therefore he cannot but be born of them. Thus it was expedient that he who was to redeem the human race should have his being and birth from the father and mother of us all.”
-Anselm of Canterbury, On the Virgin Conception and Original Sin, 11.
God is good even when the world falls apart. God is good when oceans rise and storms rage. God is good even when hospitals are overwhelmed. God is good when loved ones die. God is good when the economy grinds to a halt. God is good even when politicians fail us. God is good when our savings disappear and our debts overwhelm.
God is good even though we aren’t. He is good even when we don’t want Him or His goodness. He is good even when our sin looks better to us. He is good though our flesh, the devil, and the world stalk us. He is good when joy and peace flee us. He is good even when we sin against Him.
Everyone who recovers from COVID-19, recovers because of YHWH’s goodness. Every case with mild symptoms comes from His kindness. Every healthcare professional who stays healthy is his gift. Everyone who escapes, escapes because God helped him/her. Every single one of our days is numbered in His book and every day He gives us emanates from His goodness. God is the source of every good.
Sin and the Devil are the source of COVID-19. We must remember that God overcomes the darkness; He doesn’t create it. He is working to bring life, human flourishing, and salvation through it all. We cannot know why the Lord allows the evils of this world, but we can know that He will be glorified as He works to destroy them.
The Lord is neither weak nor slow to perform His promises. He is infinitely gracious, merciful, and loving. Christ Jesus is coming back. He is bringing His home, the best city ever, the New Jerusalem, with Him. God will fix everything, and sinners—like you and me—can dwell with him in the coming perfect world for eternity if we will but repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some day this Lenten season will be over; Come quickly Lord Jesus! What joy will overwhelm us when we see Him. If COVID-19 takes us home, what a blessed gift, we will get to see our Lord sooner than we had planned. If we remain, let us love and serve God and love and serve our neighbors with the time we have left. His kingdom come; His will be done.
Lift up the name of the One who has always been
Through Him creation was made and each voice within
God in His fullness has lived here among us
Jesus has brought us to Him
In Him creation remains; He sustains it for praise
He is above all that is; He’s victorious always
So come now before Him; bow down and adore Him
For Jesus is worthy of praise
Amen! Amen! Amen! Amen!
Here is the Visible Appearance of the Invisible God
Here is the Maker of Salvation; we are delivered through His blood
Here is the Firstborn of Resurrection over all who will rise again
Here is our Reconciliation, bringing the Peace that can never end
All things are offered up to Him; all nature proclaims
By Him and for Him and through Him we live and are saved
Come sing the praise of the One who has changed us
Worthy the Lamb that was slain
He is the Visible Appearance of the Invisible God
He is the Maker of Salvation; we are delivered through His blood
He is the Firstborn of Resurrection over all who will rise again
He is our Reconciliation, bringing the Peace that can never end
Amen! Amen! Amen! Amen!
Amen! Amen! Amen! Amen!
Shout with the Angels, “All glory to God who saves!”
He is above all that is; He’s victorious always
From only a manger His power remakes us
Imagine the throne of His reign
The Suffering Servant is mighty to save;
How much more is the Ancient of Days!
Emmanuel will come for us, oh Israel
He’ll come for us, oh Israel
A safe stronghold our God is still, A trusty shield and weapon;
He’ll help us clear from all the ill that hath us now o’ertaken.
The ancient prince of hell hath risen with purpose fell;
Strong mail of craft and power he weareth in this hour;
On earth is not his fellow.
With force of arms we nothing can, full soon were we down-ridden;
But for us fights the proper Man, whom God Himself hath bidden.
Ask ye, who is this same? Christ Jesus is His Name,
The Lord Sabaoth’s Son; He, and no other one,
Shall conquer in the battle.
And were this world all devils o’er, and watching to devour us,
We lay it not to heart so sore; not they can overpower us.
And let the prince of ill look grim as e’er he will,
He harms us not a whit; For why? — his doom is writ;
A word shall quickly slay him.
God’s Word, for all their craft and force, one moment will not linger,
But, spite of hell, shall have its course; ’tis written by His finger.
And though they take our life, goods, honor, children, wife,
Yet is their profit small; these things shall vanish all:
The City of God remaineth!
Translation by Frederic H. Hedge, 1853
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
-Martin Luther, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, paraphrase of Psalm 46, 1527-1529
For the choir director. A Psalm of the sons of Korah, set to Alamoth. A Song.
God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, The holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.
Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has wrought desolations in the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire. Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.